All right, guys, This is the day the coach can come to practice. Everybody better be ready.

Since classes began, most college basketball players have been informally spending at least part of their afternoons working out. The word from the coaches, who, by coincidence, of course, might drop by, leaves the indelible impression that the practices are optional. But what player would miss a session?

Oct. 15 is the day the NCAA deems it is acceptable to begin preparing for the season officially and area schools will be starting at approximately the same time this afternoon. As usual, the mood runs from overwhelming optimism to hollow hopefulness.

"Our goal is to win the national championship," Virginia Coach Terry Holland said. "I know a lot of teams feel that way this time of year, but that's the way we're thinking here."

"We have four starting spots open," Howard Coach A.B. Williamson said. "We have a lot of young players and if they work up to their potential, we will be a solid team."

Most coaches fall somewhere between these extremes, although John Thompson at Georgetown, Wil Jones at University of District of Columbia and Ed Tapscott, the new coach at American University, certainly have many reasons to be thinking about postseason travel plans.

Georgetown, a one-point loser to North Carolina in the NCAA championship game, will have only one starter returning from its 30-7 team, but he's the big one. Patrick Ewing, a 7-foot sophomore who many National Basketball Association general managers gladly would make their No. 1 draft choice next spring, will make the Hoyas one of the nation's best defensive teams.

Jones admits he's had a relaxing summer, secure in the knowledge that all 11 players who helped the Firebirds win the NCAA Division II championship are returning.

Much of the apprehension surrounding his first season as a head coach should be eased for Tapcott with the return of 11 players who took the Eagles to a 21-9 record and their second successive National Invitation Tournament appearance.

As usual, much of the local interest will center around College Park, where Lefty Driesell, who will begin his 13th year as coach, admits a multitude of question marks.

"I don't know much about this team yet," Driesell said yesterday. "I don't even know who my best players are. I can't ever remember having a team without a senior."

One player Driesell knows all about is Adrian Branch, a 6-7 sophomore who led the team in scoring last season with a 15.2 average.

One of the newcomers Driesell is counting on to help improve last season's 16-13 record is Ben Coleman, a 6-9 transfer from Minnesota who probably will be the starting center. Another is Len Bias, who averaged 25 points a game at Northwestern High School last season.

"One of the reasons I came back was because I think we can win the national championship," said Ralph Sampson, the main reason Virginia fans share his high hopes. The question in Charlottesville is what kind of supporting cast will surround the 7-foot-4 center.

Holland's big hope is that his sophomore forwards, Tim Mullen and Jim Miller, will continue to improve and that he can find a replacement for team leader Jeff Jones to work with Othell Wilson in the back court.

Georgetown and Ewing will be lying in wait for the Cavaliers Dec. 11 at Capital Centre. By that time Thompson hopes that playmaker Fred Brown will have recovered from knee surgery and a replacement will be found for high-scoring Sleepy Floyd, now playing with the New Jersey Nets.

Tapscott served as Gary Williams' chief assistant for the past three years and knows the talents of his returning starting five: guards Eddie Sloan (16.8 points per game) and Gordon Austin (13.2), forwards Mark Nickens (19.2) and Fernando Aunon (6.7), plus leading rebounder Juan Jones (8.8).

Gerry Gimelstob is faced with a rebuilding project in his second season at George Washington. Mike Brown, rookie of the year in the Eastern Eight (now Atlantic 10 Conference) last season, is the only returning starter. The 6-9 center led the 13-14 Colonials in scoring (15.6) and rebounding (8.5) last season.

Williamson also is counting on many new faces at Howard. Bernard Perry, a 6-5 senior who averaged 13.8 points a game, is the only returning starter.

The other new coach in the area is Jack Bruen at Catholic University. The long-time assistant at De Matha, who coached at Carroll the past two years, will greet eight letterman from last year's 9-16 team.

Michael Britt, a probable NBA first-round draft choice, and Earl Jones again are expected to lead UDC to a postseason tournament. Britt, a 6-7 skywalker, averaged 21.9 points and 10.9 rebounds while the 7-foot Jones contributed 23.6 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.

At George Mason, Joe Harrington will be hard pressed to replace Andre Gaddy, his 6-10 rebounder who is playing in Spain after failing to make it with the Houston Rockets, but he will have last year's ECAC-South rookie of the year Carlos Yates (15.9) and guard Andy Bolden (15.4) back from last year's 13-14 team.

Paul Evans is hoping that Vernon Butler, a 6-7 freshman from High Point, will help Navy improve last year's 12-14 record. He has experience in the back court with Rob Romaine (14.9) and Dave Brooks (12.5) returning and at one forward with three-year starter Gary Price.